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Wet Noodle Posse | Blog

Monday, September 28, 2009

Free Falling

By Sandy James

I’m not really a Tom Petty fan. He was one of the 1980s singers I could take or leave. Good enough I’d probably not change the radio channel if one of his songs popped up, but not good enough to run out and buy his latest CD. Which probably raises the question, “Why in the world would you use one of Tom Petty’s best-known songs as the title of one of your books?” Because to me, titles are as important as the plot. Yeah, I know. That doesn’t answer your question, but please bear with me. As I tell my students, there’s always a method to my madness.

Every now and then, a title comes easy. A good example would be Turning Thirty-Twelve. That was the first book I ever wrote around a title. More often, I complete several chapters of a book before the title makes itself known. And the titles choose me, I don’t choose them. Free Falling came to me that way.

Murphy’s Law was the third book I wrote. At the time, my son was a senior at the high school where I teach. As a result, I was really close to the seniors that year. I’d watched most of them grow up, and they were all very supportive of my first endeavors into writing novels. To thank them for all their encouragement, I named several of the characters in Murphy’s Law after some of my students. One of my favorite students begged me to name the villain after him. So Ross Kennedy was born. But I immediately encountered a problem. My Ross, my character, simply wouldn’t let me write him the way I wanted. I tried. I really did. But Ross just couldn’t be a bad guy.

The character slowly evolved into a strong man who tried to do the right thing, even if it included getting hurt in the process. He loved Katie Murphy, the heroine, but in the end, he lets her go with Seth Remington so she can be with the love of her life. Ross sacrifices what he believes will make him happy to ensure her happiness. With such a wonderful character, how could I possibly leave him all alone? As I wrapped up Murphy’s Law, I decided that Ross had a story of his own to tell, so I set out to create for him a heroine who would not only complement him, but complete him.

Ross was already well characterized, but when you thrust a secondary into the spotlight, you have to add more layers. A history. Quirks. Emotional baggage. Ross became the superlative Type A. Always working. Always planning. Always trying to control every aspect of his life. Into his regimented and orderly world, I dropped Laurie Miller.

Laurie was such a joy to write. She was just as committed to her career as a psychologist as Ross was to his career as a lawyer. (And by the way, my student Ross has decided to study law because “his” character was a lawyer. How neat is that?) But even though Laurie was dedicated to her job, she had more “balance” to her life than Ross. She knew how to stop and appreciate the important moments rather than plot and plan all the moments yet to come and missing out on real life. She knew how and when to just let go, something Ross had never learned. She was exactly what he needed.

I was a good third of the way into writing the book before the title finally made itself known. As I wrote the scenes where Laurie and Ross get to know each other, as their relationship developed, I realized that she was giving him a marvelous gift, that she could help Ross finally learn one of the most important lessons of his life. She gave him the ability to live in the moment, to – for once – let life come as it may. To…free fall. The Tom Petty song suddenly popped into my head, and I knew the book had a name. The rest of the story came so easily, the book practically wrote itself. Okay, that’s an exaggeration. It was still a lot of work, but the focus “made” the story.

I suppose that each of my books offers a sort of lesson that I hope enhances readers’ lives. In Turning Thirty-Twelve, I hope people can follow Jackie’s lead and learn to love themselves. In Murphy’s Law, I hope people catch onto Seth’s changing circumstances and realize that there are more important things in life than money. In Free Falling, I hope that people watch Ross learn to let go and perhaps learn to appreciate the little things in their own lives.
And wouldn’t it be great if we could all learn how to free fall?
Visit author Sandy James at her website
What are some of the best titles you've chosen? What was the process you went through in choosing them?

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At 10:21 AM, Blogger Mo H said...

Thanks so much for blogging with us today. Titles can be tricky. It's always interesting to find out how an author picks a title.

At 1:40 PM, Blogger Theresa Ragan said...

Hi Sandy, Welcome to WNP! I love all of your titles and your books sounds fabulous. I love the life lessons. I love naming my books, which is why each of them usually ends up with more than one title. But naming characters...that's another story altogether! I have a hard time with characters' names.

At 2:51 PM, Blogger Sandy James said...

Thanks, Mo! I'm happy to be here!

At 2:52 PM, Blogger Sandy James said...

Hi, Theresa! And thanks!
I love naming characters, especially if there is someone special I'd like to honor by using his/her name. Since I meet 180 new students every school year, I have tons of potential new characters!! :-)

At 2:59 PM, Blogger Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Hey Sandy--what a great blog..and I love your titles, always have!

Since you ask,I'm very happy with the title of my short story--that was just accepted for publication!
It's called "On the House"--and in the story, there are four different meanings for that phrase.

But of course, since it's a mystery, I can't tell you what the are. :-)

But soon I'll post the story--and you can let me know what you think!

PS: Is there a Tom Petty song The Waiting? I think that would be a cool title.

(And I'm very happy with PRIME TIME and etc, too. That's a truly long story!)

At 3:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You do have some wonderful titles, Sandy!!!


At 4:03 PM, Blogger Sandy James said...

Thanks, Hank! You're such a sweetheart!

"On the house"! I love it!

"The Waiting is the Hardest Part." I'd forgotten that song! I'll have to see if I can wrap a story around it! :-)

At 4:04 PM, Blogger Sandy James said...

Thanks so much, Tessy! My books really are my "babies." :-)

At 4:06 PM, Blogger Lise said...

I love your process, Sandy - and I have a similar affinity for song titles, from those songs that really resonate with me, they pop up and bring a great character, or a great story, with them. Two of my favorites - one is Attitude Dancing, from a song by Carly Simon. The other, while used often, actually, is Body & Soul, from the standard that is so haunting and desperate. It simply cries out to be a romance novel! And not a song, but an entire genre of songs, I have an historical that I have been plugging away on, not a romance, but historical women's fiction, called TORCH. And it's about - you guessed it - a torch singer from the 1930's. I get titles that pop into my head, some that take work to make them fit the story, some are little twists on expressions, and some are just straightforward (Wanted, and Beast, are two of them). Fun blog and I love how the kids get into the process! Best of luck with all your titles.

At 4:16 PM, Anonymous Lavada Dee said...

Great post Sandy. I love titles but publishers often change them. Characters are a different story they seem to leave them alone.


At 4:17 PM, Blogger Sandy James said...

Thanks, Lise! LOVE the avatar!

I'm with you on how inspiring music can be a writer! I have quite a few favorite songs I listen to to help me with characters, but also to inspire me to keep going in a business that can leave a person feeling a bit...shredded sometimes. Lately, I've been waxing philosophic with Miley Cyrus and "The Climb." :-)

At 4:18 PM, Blogger Sandy James said...

Hi, Lavada! I've been lucky so far because BookStrand let me keep all my titles. Who knows what the future holds should I move on to other publishers? :-)

At 6:08 PM, Blogger Diane Gaston said...

I've given up on titles. I just don't have the talent for them, so I rely on my friends....or my editor. My friend Julie has coined A Reputable Rake for me and The Vanishing Viscountess. Maybe The Wagering Widow, too.
She does great with alliteration.

At 6:28 PM, Blogger Sandy James said...

Hi, Diane! Love the title Julie picked. :-) I think historicals are harder than contemporaries. Obviously cuts down a lot of references to pop culture, such a song titles.

At 6:58 PM, Blogger Louisa Cornell said...

What a neat blog. I love the way you arrive at your titles and as a former high school teacher I really appreciate your involvement with and inspiration of your students!!

I usually have the basic story in my head before I come up with a title. Lost in Love was the perfect title for my first book because the hero and heroine get lost on their first "date" (it's a Regency so I guess you could say first outing)on the hero's own estate and he ends up driving them into a hole!

The Raven's Heart started out as The Hedgehog because the hero's daughter has a little pet hedgehog. But once I came up with the title of the estate, Ravenhurst, I came up with the hero's nickname, The Raven, and from that came The Raven's Heart. Now if I can ever sell it there are two other books I want to write in the series - The Nightingale's Song and The Swan's Cry. What can I say, I like birds!

Then my third book is all about the lies people tell to themselves, to others and those they tell in the name of love to the one they love. So, The Deceit of Desire seemed like a good title. As before I have two other books outlined for the series - The Truth of Beauty and The Price of Obsession.

See, I have all of these titles, all dressed up and no place to go. But I'll get there!

At 7:35 PM, Blogger Sandy James said...

Great titles, Louisa!! I really think historicals are the hardest to name. And of course you'll get there! I'll look forward to reading all those great stories!


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